1. The effort was questionable. Shocking for any team in its opener, and especially for a Jeff Fisher team. If tackling is about effort, then the effort on Sunday was abysmal. On Cordarrelle Patterson’s 67-yard touchdown run, the Rams missed six tackles. Offensive linemen failed to hold blocks, and Vikings receivers found themselves uncovered in the second half. No team in the NFL is good enough to not give 100 percent, but especially a team that chooses to not be explosive.
2. Brian Quick arrived. In the first two years of his career, Quick had 11 and then 18 catches. On Sunday, he hauled in seven, on nine targets, for 99 yards. After a strong preseason, it seems as if Quick has figured out the offense and learned how to utilize his physical abilities. He’s capable of making plays against any defender in the NFL.
3. The offensive line was overwhelmed. A team that changed its identity last year and became a strong running team averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Running backs ran 19 times for 69 yards. Zac Stacy had nowhere to run in rushing 11 times for 43 yards. The holes just weren’t there. For a veteran group that has three players who had been to Pro Bowls, they weren’t as good as advertised. Shaun Hill was sacked once in the first half, and Austin Davis was under siege and went down four times in the second. The guys in the trenches that Fisher has concentrated so much on collecting did not have a good day.
4. For a team that wants to run the ball and play defense, neither was in evidence. We already noted the problems in the running game. Meanwhile, the defense couldn’t make big stops in the red zone, allowing the Vikings to score twice there. Minnesota averaged 6.2 yards per play, the Rams allowed field-goal drives of 11 and five plays, and allowed the long, backbreaking run by Patterson. This offense is not going to score 28 points. The defense can’t allow 27.
5. In the absence of Sam Bradford, the quarterback situation is not as hopeful as I thought it was. Hill had a passer rating of 47.3 in the first half before he left because of a quad injury. He looked rattled when he heaved an interception late in the second quarter that led to a Matt Cassel-to-Greg Jennings TD pass, which provided the Vikings’ winning score. Davis looked like a guy making his first NFL appearance. The Vikings swarmed him. Even though his 16-for-23, 192-yards performance looks good, he couldn’t get his team into the end zone. The Bradford injury indeed could have the Rams picking in the top five of next year’s draft.
6. We should be concerned about the kicker and the punt returner. Greg Zuerlein was 26 of 28 in field goals last season with one of his misses coming from 50 yards. This preseason, he was one for four from beyond 50. It might not be reasonable for us to count on Greg the Leg for 50-plus-yarders all the time, even though he did hit a 56-yarder in the third quarter.
Tavon Austin muffed two punts and refused to run north when he did catch them. Austin finds himself trying to make plays by running east-west, and that limits his effectiveness. Austin averaged 4.8 on five returns, with a long of 19. And he averted disaster twice.
7. T.J. McDonald had a good day. He came up with big hits, was effective in the running game and, according to pressbox statistics, tied for third on the team with five tackles. He wasn’t a problem.
8. Fisher has not done a good job in limiting penalties. After last season, the coach said reducing penalties would be a point of emphasis this year. Well, the Rams were heavily penalized during the preseason, committing an astounding, league-high 50 for 379 yards. The league average during the preseason was 35 penalties for 294 yards. Sunday, they committed 13 for 121 yards in the opener. Penalties and turnover margin are the domain and the responsibility of the head coach. It’s Fisher’s job to fix that problem.
9. These Rams have to win takeaway battle. The Rams were a minus-two in turnovers. I’ll repeat last year’s stats: The Rams were 5-0 when they were in the plus category in a game, 0-5 when they were a minus and 2-4 when they were even. If this team is to win, it needs to do a better job in that department. It’s simple.
10. The crowd was into it early. Yes, there were some Vikings fans in the house, but the Rams crowd was loud and enthusiastic early.
And, as you might expect, they faded as the game got worse. It was, for the seventh straight year, a major buzzkill. Sadly, the best way to beat the traffic on Sunday was to stay until the end of the game.
At least it can’t get any worse. Maybe Fisher can get in touch with the league and request a restart next week against Tampa, rather than at the quarter pole of the season, like he did last year. 34-6 was no way to get Rams Nation energized for 2014. However, as one fellow season-ticket holder said to me near the end of the game, do they ever report who was the guy leading the Boston Marathon after a mile? There’s a long way to go.